Monthly Archives: March 2013

Nonna’s Pane di Pasqua — senza glutine

Last year I missed out on my nonna’s pane di Pasqua, or ‘Easter bread’ in English, or ‘squooti’ in her Siderno, Italy dialect (don’t ask about that last one). Even if you’ve never tried it, I’m sure you have seen it: bread braided to nest or hold eggs. I’ve come to look forward to this treat every year, so much so, in fact, that it has become a staple of Easter in my mind. I didn’t want to go another year without it, so I spent all of yesterday in the kitchen with my nonna – a day she probably never saw coming, as I’ve never been ‘that’ Italian girl. I have always gone out of my way to stay as far from the kitchen as possible. Why should I help with anything domestic when my brother gets to sit with the rest of the guys in the living room? I always found it unfair, and to be honest, I still do. But it was nice having that one-on-one time with her. We didn’t have to serve anyone; we were simply having fun adapting a decades-old recipe into one that was gluten free.

My proud nonna, taking my gluten free Easter bread out of the oven after a long day in the kitchen.

My proud nonna, taking my gluten free Easter bread out of the oven after a long day in the kitchen.

Before we got down to business, my mom surprised us and popped in. Would this be a case of ‘too many cooks stirring the pot’? I’ve seen what happens when my mom, nonna, and uncle (who happens to be a chef) cook a meal together; it can very easily turn into Hell’s Kitchen. Truth be told, my mom’s presence was a godsend. She had been helping with the recipe all week, translating my nonna’s instructions into English, and actually having her in the kitchen was helpful, too. She acted as translator when the language barrier got in the way, but, more importantly, she became our unofficial ‘Overseer of Operations’ when my oh-so hard-headed nonna would try to veer away from the written instructions and toss in a few extra ingredients. Normally I’d say, ‘nonna knows best,’ and back off, but I’ve read gluten free flour mixtures can be finicky, and I didn’t want to take any risks with how this bread would turn out!

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Why I love the Bulk Barn

Even though I’ve never really spent too much time in the kitchen, I suppose I’ve always been a fan of the Bulk Barn. However my main reason for visiting throughout the years has always been so I could pick up snacks for the movies. I mean, hey, why spend $5-$10 on a snack when you can spend $2 and have a larger selection of chocolate to choose from?

Last week I showed my recipe for gluten free key lime cupcakes and I said I used a mix because I essentially couldn’t be bothered to mix my own flours. Well, I decided to suck it up and finally do it. I’ve been spending months reading about gluten free recipes, and so many have said, ‘mix your own flour’ because the end result is just that much better. So, I took some time researching different gluten free flour mixtures and headed to the Bulk Barn. I was surprised to see the store had an entire gluten free section. Very impressed. The flours were even on sale; consider me doubly impressed.

A gluten free section at the Bulk Barn -- and they're all on sale? What a happy surprise.

A gluten free section at the Bulk Barn — and they’re all on sale? What a happy surprise.

I purchased brown rice flour, sorghum flour, coconut flour, cornstarch, and tapioca starch, and the final tally was $5.47.

Now what to bake with all these flours...

Now what to bake with all these flours…

$5.47 for all of that! If I had bought a pre-packed mix of gluten free flour to equal the amount I purchased, I would have easily spent between $15 and $20.

So there you have it. I may be late in the game, but better than late than never. Oh, and if you’re wondering what exactly I’m going to do with all this flour, well,  stay tuned…

 

 

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Fun and easy key lime cupcakes

It appears my blog is swiftly becoming an ode to the colour green; I promise this is not intentional. But here I am once again writing about a food item I’ve recently had that was kind of green!

My husband had celebrated his birthday over the weekend, and I decided to surprise him with a treat from his past: a key lime dessert. I had never made anything ‘key lime’ before, but what I came up with was relatively easy. I’ll start by saying I used a gluten free cake mix; I’ve never really been a baker and I’ll admit I’ve been a bit intimidated with the whole substituting-‘normal’-flour-with-3-or-4-other-flours-I’ve-never-heard-of-that-can-be-digested-easily-by-my-gluten-intolerant-stomach.

The mix I used was a Betty Crocker’s gluten free cake mix, and while this may be construed as taking the easy way out, you’ll see I had some fun working with the rest of the recipe.

My delicious gluten free key lime cupcake is something I'll definitely be making again.

My delicious gluten free key lime cupcake is something I’ll definitely be making again.

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I might like my wine green, but not my soup

It amazes me how many restaurant soup dishes are off limits because they have gluten. I’ve made a number of soups that don’t use flour as a thickener, and even if they did, the flour could be replaced with cornstarch.

It’s mid-March and we just got hit with another blast of winter. Even though I’m inside at the moment, the cold and snow is putting me in the mood for soup — yellow split pea soup to be exact.

Yellow split pea soup: my comfort food for wintery days

Yellow split pea soup: my comfort food for wintery days

When I was younger my mom proudly whipped up a pot of green split pea soup. Maybe it was the green hue or maybe it was the flavour — whatever the reason, my brother and I despised it and we were too young and too polite to protest. Luckily for me, a ringing telephone had called my mom away from the kitchen in the middle of dinner. My brother was maybe six years old at the time, and I can still remember his wide eyes following me as I crept to the stove, bowl of soup in hand, only to slyly pour the soup back into its pot. My stealth skills allowed me to make it back to the table in time, but my brother wasn’t so lucky. When my mom returned to the kitchen, she was impressed I had ‘gobbled up’ all my soup. I was free to go play, but my brother had to stay behind and actually finish his dish. As an older sister, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ve got an inherent evil streak, and this story still makes me snicker.

But I digress.

My recipe for split soup requires yellow split peas, not green, thankyouverymuch. And it doesn’t contain gluten either.

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St. Patty’s Day G-free style

For the first time in years, I did not put on my green leprechaun T-shirt and go out to celebrate St. Patrick’s downtown. Friends had cancelled earlier in the week, but it was just as well — I was coming off the tail end of a cold that had plagued me for days. Still feeling a bit blah and recluse, I opted to stay in on the night everyone else was getting drunk off green beer. But I still had my appetite, so my husband, Jonathan, and I threw our own St. Patty’s Day celebration of sorts from the comfort of our condo. Before the party kicked off, we headed to the grocery store for green food colour, and then to the LCBO for some alcohol. Jonathan got his usual variety pack of different beers, but since I can’t have beer anymore, I picked up my own little gluten free variety pack.

Alexander Keith’s Original Cider

First cider I ever tried and loved it.

First cider I ever tried and loved it.

I’ve only ever tried one cider before and it was this one. I had it this past summer at Toronto’s Festival of Beer and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s sweet, but not sickly sweet like the wine coolers I used to enjoy in my teen years. The cider boasts a light, refreshing green apple bubbliness — fitting considering the addition of green food colour.

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Cocoa & Joe Cafe: G-free gem in Oshawa, Ont.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A couple weeks ago I was in Oshawa, Ont. to attend an event at which my husband was a guest speaker. It was around lunchtime when the event was over, so naturally we were hungry. My husband’s father worked in the area and was meeting with us for lunch, and he found a small cafe that boasted an impressive gluten free menu.

The owner, Sharon, was a delight to meet. She recommended a number of specials, introduced me to a variety of gluten free dressings, dips, and marinades, as well as a gluten free bread that I actually enjoyed (for the first time ever, actually). Most of the breads I had tried up until that point have been tasteless, crumbly, or stiff. This one was so good I ended up buying a loaf to take home with me. I would love to buy this bread on a more regular basis, but the company, Redman’s Farm & Country Market, is situated in Port Perry, Ont. — quite a distance for this Toronto gal. The good news is that the Cocoa & Joe Cafe sells their bread and bagels, and since I have a few friends who live in Durham, I’ll be in the area from time to time.

Cocoa & Joe's delicious gluten free roasted red pepper and black bean soup. A definite must-have

Cocoa & Joe’s delicious gluten free roasted red pepper and black bean soup. A definite must-have

I’ve always been a fan of roasted red pepper soup, so I ordered the roasted red pepper and black bean soup. It was smooth, hearty, and so delicious I really didn’t want to let my husband, Jonathan, try any. I did, though, and he loved it too. I’m all for trying new things, but I think I’ll order this dish again the next time I’m at Cocoa & Joe’s.

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Bean and pepper medley in a crispy lettuce wrap

While I enjoy cooking more than I have before, I really try to avoid being in the kitchen every single day. That said, I regularly cook large portions of my meals so they last most of the week. This goes for both lunches and dinners, and I really don’t mind eating the same thing a few days in a row — not when they are this good, that is.

And so I introduce you to a favourite lunch idea in my household: bean and pepper medley in a crispy lettuce wrap. This can be made using a wok and stovetop or in your slow cooker.

The bean and pepper medley goes well in a gluten free bread wrap, too, and can also be eaten without any wrap at all.

The bean and pepper medley goes well in a gluten free bread wrap, too, and can also be eaten without any wrap at all.

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Luscious flourless peanut butter and chocolate bars

My husband and I had company over Friday night and I decided to break my tradition of serving a store bought dessert.  I always cook the main meal myself, and usually go with President’s Choice Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake for an after dinner treat – this cake, by the way, is always well received. I must say I am impressed with PC’s gluten free products, and I hope they produce more.

But back to the real subject of this post: my homemade dessert. I had gotten the idea from my mom, who had surprised me a few weeks back with a flourless chocolate cake. It was tasty and it seemed like an easy recipe. I tweaked it a bit to satisfy my obsession with peanut butter and chocolate, and this is what I got:

My homemade decadent flourless peanut butter and chocolate bars were a hit with our guests

My homemade decadent flourless peanut butter and chocolate bars were a hit with our guests!

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The best damn sweet potato fries ever

I discovered sweet potato fries three of four years before I became gluten intolerant and they quickly became my go-to side dish at restaurants. I don’t know if it was chipotle sauce they usually came with or the fact that I was secretly tired of plain fries, but whatever the reason, they were my favourite.

Now I find that more often than not, I can’t order them at all. And, no, it’s not because they may or may not have come in contact with gluten. I can’t order them because for some reason, they are always breaded.

I suppose they are breaded to add firmness to an otherwise ‘flimsy’ fry, but really they don’t have to be.

I’ve experimented with my own versions of sweet potato fries, and I do believe I have found a winner. You’ll see it’s a pretty easy recipe, but sometimes simple is best. Also, they don’t require any bread coating. Try them out yourself. You’ll see they are the best damn sweet potato fries ever – so good, in fact, you won’t even miss the chipotle sauce 🙂

These sweet potato fries beat anything I've ever had in a restaurant. And they are so easy to make.

These sweet potato fries beat anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. And they are so easy to make.

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